Journalist speaks to students about North Korea


The Kennedy Center hosted Barbara Demick, author of “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary lives in North Korea” to speak on her experiences as a journalist.

“I wanted to bring these people to life and get away from the cliches about North Koreans as robots,” Demick said. “Everything I’ve read was about their nuclear program and the weapons of mass destruction.  There was very little sense of what the North Korean country was. This was how ‘Nothing to Envy’ came about.”

Demick is a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times focusing on Asia. She has written on the economic and social changes of North Korea. She spent seven years studying the lives of Korean defectors. The main focus of her book is the life of people rather than nuclear or leaderships disasters.

Demick’s particular writing style is narrative. She tells news through detailed stories of the people.

“I wanted to know what it was like to be a North Korean. How their day works, how did they wake up in the morning, what did they do for fun, what did they eat?” Demick said.

In order to draw readers in, Demick wrote her book as a love story–a nonfictional “Romeo and Juliet.” The two characters are not supposed to see each other because of class rank.

“In North Korea everyone is ranked by their loyalty to the regime,” Demick said. “How high your standard is is whether or not your family believes Kim-Il-Sung is a God-like figure. As you may know, there is no religion in North Korea, but they’ve plagiarized the Bible. If you read North Korean propaganda, Kim Il Sung is God and the son is Jesus. When he was born, there is a star that heralded his birth and then a rainbow. There is a reason they banded the Bible, its because they’ve plagiarized it.”

Among others things, North Koreans are taught that they live in the greatest place in the world. They keep out anything foreign because its people are not allowed to know how cold and hungry they really are.

“One of the most popular songs is called ‘We Have Nothing to Envy in the World,'” Demick said. “It is their underlying motto and what keeps North Korea together.”

After Demick spoke of her experiences with North Koreans, she answered questions from the audience and then concluded the meeting. Cory Leonard, the assistant director, said it was double what they expected and said Demick’s presentation was a success. Following the presentation was a book signing.

An hour later, the Kennedy Center then sponsored a Korean event which was hosted by the Korean Students Club. The festival had Korean food, games, displays of traditional dress and samples of Korean writing.

Hwa Lee is the Korean club president, and enjoyed the opportunity to share the Korean culture and was excited to do it.

“During spring and summer we don’t have much opportunity to present our culture correctly,” Lee said. “We are trying to reach out to students every semester.”

The Korean festivities taught all about the Korean culture, both North and South.


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